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Where Are The Superstars and The Hits?


The buzz word is “Indie.” Over the past four or five years, the Indian music industry has been talking about how independent music has proved to be a tough challenge to film songs, attaining a status of its own. Very often, people cite a song’s number of YouTube views to prove their point. A few million is no big deal, we’re even talking in billion now.

Great news!

But the question is- where are the new superstars? Where are the super-hit songs that people actually hum everywhere or play in restaurants? In all of 2020, has a single song created a nation-wide wave the way Daler Mehndi’s Bolo Ta Ra Ra did in 1996, and Dhanush’s Kolaveri Di did 15 years later? Are any of the contemporary artistes anywhere near Alisha Chinai or Lucky Ali in terms of pan-India and global-diaspora reach? We’re sure industry watchers know the answers.

In fact, Lucky Ali recently proved what a superstar and an evergreen hit song can do. Even today, fresh videos of his 1996 hit O Sanam from the album Sunoh are going viral.

There was a video where he pauses after singing the line, “Mar bhi gaye..” Right after, was another where he sang the song at a Goa beach, Both videos went viral. At every live show, the crowd hums along. The song is even sung at picnics and bars. We don’t see this frenzy these days.

That’s not to deny that oodles of talent have actually come out in the year gone by. As a reviewer, one has come across some fantastic songs in all genres that combine to make Indie music, released independently by artistes or smaller labels, and non-film music, promoted by the major record companies.


A Comparison

Add to that the fact that Hindi film music has had a terrible year – a situation worsened by the absence of many big releases following COVID. In fact, the pandemic has helped independent artistes to focus on songwriting and create better work. It has also encouraged film playback singers, composers, and lyricists to increase their emphasis on projects outside Bollywood.

There have been wonderful songs. From Prateek Kuhad’s Kasoor to Shreya Ghoshal’s Muraliya to English songs by Druv Kent and Samantha Noella to albums by Soulmate, Thermal And A Quarter, and Bickram Ghosh, there was plenty of great quality on offer. Also, the Hip-Hop buffs admired Divine’s Punya Paap.

Even in international music, there were numerous good releases, from Bob Dylan, AC/DC, The Weeknd, and Korean pop band BTS to Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, and Fiona Apple. But there too, there were no mega-hit songs of the scale of the Camilia Cabello-Shawn Mendes hit Senorita in 2018 or the following year’s Old Town Road by Nas Lil X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus.

There were no new superstars either. None of the forthcoming Grammy award nominations for new artiste (Phoebe Bridgers, Chika, Noah Cyrus, Doja Cat, Kytranada, and Megan Thee Stallion) are yet to make the big league. And since they have competition from Beyonce, Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, and Roddy Rich in the major categories, it seems an uphill task for them to a breakthrough in a big way.


New Releases but No Superstars

One big difference between international and Indian music, of course, was that while the former still continued giving priority to full-length albums, the local market was dominated by singles. That, perhaps, was one reason why fewer artistes got noticed.

This brings us to the main point of the article – why haven’t we been able to create a new superstar or produce a smash hit song? With film music, there was a sheer shortage of new releases, and thus one didn’t see the launch of too many new artistes who could dream of being the next Arijit Singh or Shreya Ghoshal. Though songs like Shayad from Love Aaj Kal, the Malang title track, Ghungroo from War, and Bekhayali from Kabir Singh did exceedingly well after their launch over the past two years, they weren’t able to sustain the momentum too long.

In independent and non-film music, there was a clear overdose. Too many singles put out regularly by artistes, known and unknown, led to clutter.

Some musicians kept releasing songs at periodic intervals and clubbed them all together to create an EP, but that strategy didn’t work either. And if they did release albums, they had to deal with consumers who were now not used to listening to longer formats.

The means of promoting these new singles were limited to streaming platforms and social media. The thing about streaming sites is that there’s no guarantee on how many people will actually listen to a song, even if it appears on a playlist.

Label backed or truly Indie?

With so many options, people can listen to anything they want. But it depends on their taste and the mood of the moment. People boast of YouTube views, but that’s a vague parameter. Besides the issue of paid views, one doesn’t know what percentage of viewers shut off the song after five seconds or actually appreciate the song even after a few listens.

Likewise, social media has its limitations. Many campaigns target only specific people. With everybody resorting to Facebook or Instagram posts, chances of exclusive visibility and recall are low. Often, social media may help create initial awareness about a song, but it’s difficult to sustain the buzz.

In the current scenario, it’s tough to build an artiste unless he or she has the backing of some label. In desi Hip-Hop, some acts have received a good promotion. For example, Divine by Mass Appeal India, Naezy by Big Bang Entertainment and Ahmer by Azadi Records. But there are many artistes in the genre who don’t get that support.

And even otherwise, no matter how big Divine or Raftaar is within Hip-Hop, they cater to a specific audience, and not a mass one. One can’t imagine 65- year-olds going “Yo Yo” over Honey Singh.

In other genres, labels like Universal’s VYRL Originals and TM Music are focusing on A&R (Artistes & Repertoire) strategy. Overall though, the practice still needs to be revised. In the earlier days, when and how Magnasound and Crescendo Music had mastered it. Artistes who release singles on their own lack the necessary experience and means to build themselves as brands.

Can you build a Superstar?

The Indian Indie scene remains confused. It has too many genres that have no connection to one another. A fan of rapper Emiway Bantai is totally different from a follower of the Rock band, Parvaaz. Fans of Delhi-based Abhilasha Sinha may not listen to Midival Panditz from the same city. However, they are all clubbed under Indie. One big disadvantage for Indian musicians in 2020, across genres, has been the absence of live shows.

To build an artiste, provide some kind of superstar status, and expand the reach of songs. It’s essential that he or she performs physically over a wide set of locations. Online shows are not enough. Following the lockdown, live gigs have not been possible, and it will take a while before things normalise. To add to that, music channels no longer play a role in pushing new artists. In the age of streaming convenience, a section of people has moved away from the radio.

Despite all these obstacles, there are many who still believe that independent music is the way forward.

The first edition of ‘The Indies’, an awards platform promoting this umbrella genre, had some interesting nominations and winners. Bangalore band Parvaaz got ‘Song Of The Year’ for Soye Ja from the album Kun, besides ‘Best Rock Artist’. The well-known Warren Mendonsa of Blackstratblues got the ‘Best Guitarist’ Award.

The other prestigious awards were won by Suryakant Sawhney’s solo project Lifafa (‘Album Of The Year’ for Jaago), Rap group Swadesi (‘Artiste Of The Year’), and rapper Hanumankind (‘Emerging Artiste Of The Year’).

While all these three acts are definitely talented, they still have a long way to go before becoming household names. At the moment, their audience is limited in number, even if devoted by nature. That seems to be the dilemma many artistes are facing.

They have the skills, but the means to hit the big time are filled with obstacles. As for the songs, they just come and go.

Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

3 thoughts on “Where Are The Superstars and The Hits?”

  1. Good ground coverage Narendra. In my experience it’s the lack of Music Producers, in the true sense of the word, to give the polish and curate the talent, that is not taking the songs forward. A very very small percentage of artists have the experience or the vision to see their song as a finished product, which have may the chance of a life in the open market and become pan-Indian. All the hit songs, you mentioned, have had a well established music producer behind it.

    Secondly the internet is a vast sea and we are spoilt for choice. Radio, which in my opinion is the biggest and the most far-reaching medium of promotion, is still film song centric. And there is hardly any TV anymore. So now an artist, needs to work harder to keep a regular fan base going. And they just hope for a miracle like their song going viral, to catapult them. That’s not enough.

  2. Armaan Malik
    Darshan Raval
    Neha Kakkar

    Why can’t we look at true Indian Pop stars of today? Just because they also get some Bollywood songs? Their Pop songs are doing well on Spotify for instance…

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